Do mental disorders cause substance abuse?

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research1: “When other factors are held constant, mental illness does increase use of addictive goods – relative to use by the overall population – 20 percent for alcohol, 27 percent for cocaine, and 86 percent for cigarettes.”

While 20 and 27 percent may not sound dramatic in the overall, this should: Those with existing mental illness consume roughly 38 percent of all alcohol, 44 percent of cocaine, and 40 percent of all cigarettes. For those who’ve experienced mental disorders at some time all in their lives, the numbers rise another 50 to 100 percent.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 50 percent of general psychiatric patients also have a substance use disorder. This amounts to almost 9 million adults – and of that number, only 7.4 percent of individuals are receiving treatment for both conditions. Compared to the general population, the substance addicted are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders and vice versa.

Of even more significance is trauma, which most often acts as a root cause to substance abuse. In one study2, this influence is shown to be huge and especially meaningful: Early adverse life experiences can cause a 500 percent increase in the incidence of adult alcoholism and 4600 percent increase in IV drug use!

What is meant by trauma? Trauma can come as a result of abuse, neglect, medical emergencies, emotional abuse, and, above all, loss – loss of a parent during childhood or adolescence which include divorce, being sent away from home, the shutting down of one or both parents due to depression or other psychiatric problems, and death. Family history plays a crucial role: For the mentally ill it has a direct effect of increasing consumption of alcohol and cocaine. Studies have shown that the influence appears to be weaker for those without mental illness.

Trauma is often followed by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Its effects can include partial memory loss, intrusive thoughts, anxiety or panic attacks, avoidance of particular places, people or contexts, emotional numbing, and overwhelming feelings of guilt or shame. PTSD also co-occurs with other psychiatric conditions 80 percent of the time – and chief among these conditions are depression and anxiety disorders.

It’s easy to see why those who suffer trauma, PTSD, or even anxiety and depression would choose to self-medicate to relieve their stress and burden. Drugs and alcohol help focus the user’s attention elsewhere and can actually change the brain’s program. It gives the user the illusion that they’re diminishing the impact of their past rather than creating more problems for themselves. As a solution, it will ultimately and inevitably fail.

For these reasons, the most effective treatment of substance abuse must require a confronting of these traumas and co-occurring or dual disorders. Therapy is integral. The great and tragic irony of self-medication is that these bad feelings, the ones the user is trying to escape, will only increase with substance abuse and addiction.

“Medication” will itself become yet another trauma in the process. The only real solution is recovery.

If you or a loved one have an addiction to alcohol, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery within 30 days. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.

  1. https://www.nber.org/digest/apr02/w8699.html
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/ace/about.htm

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